The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the entire coffee supply chain. Coffee shops all around the world have had to close their doors, roasters have started to put a new focus on online sales and subscription plans, and consumers are drinking more coffee at home than ever before.
However, for some in the coffee sector, the most significant logistical issues have emerged with the shipping of green coffee. Delays at farms and ports have become a huge concern for producers, buyers, and roasters worldwide.
Coffee is a product that needs to be shipped quickly. Delays of days, weeks, or even months, especially for specialty coffee, can have a detrimental impact on coffee quality, resulting in unforeseen issues. This, in turn, has a huge impact on everyone in the supply chain.
To learn more about some of the problems that producers face, and to look at the best way to preserve coffee quality in these uncertain times, I spoke to two award-winning coffee producers. Read on to find out what they said, and to understand the importance of good coffee packaging during transit.
Lee este artículo en español Empaque y Calidad Del Café Verde Durante el COVID-19
Shipping containers at a port. Photo credit: Sam Greenhalgh
Packaging Green Coffee Based On Quality
Producers package and ship green coffee differently according to the quality of the beans and the amount that is being shipped. While no coffee is “immune” to quality deterioration during transit, specialty and higher quality coffees will suffer more, as they effectively have more quality to lose. High-quality microlot specialty green coffee that has been delicately grown and processed is at the greatest risk if it is improperly stored and transported.
Arturo Aguirre is the owner of Finca El Injerto in Guatemala, a farm that has produced some of the highest-quality coffees in the country. Finca El Injerto coffees have come first in the Guatemala Cup of Excellence eight times in the last 20 years, and have won a number of other global coffee awards.
Arturo tells me that after drying his green coffee, he stores his beans in ultra-hermetic GrainPro Cocoons. He says that resting the green coffee in the same way across the farm helps to bring uniformity to the lot. GrainPro Cocoons preserve the quality of green coffee by protecting them against adverse weather conditions, direct sunlight, and mold growth.
“[After storing the coffee in Cocoons], we dry mill it and store all the beans in GrainPro Bags for shipping,” He adds.
Wilford Lamastus is the owner of the Lamastus Family Estates in Panama, and a fourth-generation coffee producer. Coffees from Lamastus Family Estates have won a range of quality awards in the past 20 years.
Wilford and his family have helped to popularise the Geisha variety on the global coffee stage. Their Geishas broke the coffee price world record in both 2018 (US $803 per pound) and 2019 (US $1,029 per pound).
Wilford tells me that he follows a similar process for most of his production. After drying, his team packs the green coffee inside hermetic plastic bags, which are then placed inside larger, separate liners. However, Wilford adds that for Geisha coffee, he separates it and places it in an air-conditioned room for resting.
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GrainPro Small Cocoon Indoor at Finca El Injerto. Photo credit: GrainPro
What Changed During The Pandemic?
According to a report published by the ICO in May, coffee producing countries all around the world have suffered because of shipping issues caused by Covid-19.
In Brazil, there have been widespread shipping delays, while in Indonesia, there has been a shortage of containers. In Kenya, some shipping lines have been cancelled altogether, while there have been port closures in Vietnam.
Although this has been devastating for coffee producers and traders, the actual process of shipping coffee has stayed the same. The issue, however, is the time that the green coffee now spends at each stage of the shipping process. When coffee is delayed, its quality deteriorates; and increased shipping times, a lack of available container space, and social distancing measures all add up to make shipping more difficult.
An article published by Nasdaq in October stated that there was an “imbalance of nearly 80,000 boxes in Brazil in August 2020”. This means that while 251,000 containers of green coffee left the country during the course of that month, only 172,000 arrived. For reference, in January, before the widespread effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, 216,000 boxes arrived and 201,000 left.
This is because global shipping companies in Brazil are booked to capacity for weeks in advance. According to the article, “merchants say it is not feasible to export Brazilian coffee for prompt shipment”, and shipping costs are higher than before the pandemic.
Although this issue is most apparent in Brazil, it is a symptom of wider delays across the global coffee sector.
Arturo says: “Unfortunately, we had our largest harvest ever [during the pandemic]. This meant that we needed to store the coffee for a much longer period of time, which covered the rainy season here in Guatemala.”
Preserving the quality of green coffee beans at Finca El Injerto. Photo credit: GrainPro
How Do These Delays Affect Green Coffee?
There are two main risk factors that affect the quality of green coffee in storage: humidity and temperature.
If a producer chooses poor or highly permeable coffee packaging, the humidity in the outside environment can easily cause a buildup of moisture in the green beans and compromise or diminish its quality.
Unexpectedly high moisture levels can cause a logistical issue for roasters (as coffees with a moisture level of 13 to 15%, for example, require a different roast profile to coffees with 10 to 12% moisture). They can also cause mold.
Arturo says that high humidity causes a “big risk”, potentially “ruining the coffee” and meaning that producers are “unable to sell at a premium”. This then means the producer loses out on possible income, despite the amount of effort and money they have invested into growing their crop. Fundamentally, it makes their farm less financially secure.
Using hermetically sealable coffee packaging, such as GrainPro Bags, will allow producers to minimise the threat of moisture increasing in green coffee. If packaged properly, these bags will help to combat these issues even throughout shipping delays or an extended period of time “waiting” at ports.
However, Wilford tells me that the biggest risk with these delays isn’t necessarily exposure to excess moisture, but rather the increased or unstable temperatures that these coffees are subjected to.
He says that hermetic plastic bags are the best way to maintain the right moisture levels, but they don’t help combat high temperatures. “If you put [the coffee in] a hermetic bag in an area where the temperature is 35°C, the bag won’t do anything for the quality [aside from preserving moisture content],” he says.
Arturo agrees: “This is really bad. Even if you are using a GrainPro Bag, for example, these high temperatures will affect the coffee’s [quality].”
GrainPro Extra Large Cocoon Indoor at a warehouse in Colombia. Photo credit: Fibtex
How Do You Prevent The Loss Of Coffee Quality During Transport?
Arturo says that using hermetic packaging is an excellent way to preserve and maintain green coffee quality. “It protects and prevents the coffee being affected by humidity,” he says. “This gives the beans a longer life, as they’re able to breathe but the humidity is controlled.”
He says that he packs approximately 85% of his production in ultra-hermetic GrainPro Bags.
For maximising the quality of your coffee during preservation, however, Wilford says there is no substitute for refrigerated containers. He tells me that he packs his premium Geisha lots in small vacuum bags inside GrainPro liners for export, and ships them in climate-controlled containers.
Coffee beans ready to be shipped in GrainPro Bags in Indonesia. Photo credit: Septiani Trijayani
As long as Covid-19 continues, there will be shipping delays. The worst may very well be over, but at the time of writing, the situation is far from resolved. Its impact continues to be felt by the entire coffee supply chain, including producers, traders, buyers, and roasters.
So, in order to maintain the quality of their expertly-produced green coffee, it’s important that coffee producers pay more attention to shipping, packaging, and storage than ever. This will help them protect their coffee against adverse conditions and delays.
Enjoyed this? Then read How To Improve Sustainability In Your Roastery
Photo credits: Nicole Motteux, Sam Greenhalgh, Fibtex, Septiani Trijayani
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